Miller’s office locates Iowans who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars through wire scams, including a central Iowa widow whose late husband lost a half-million
(DES MOINES, Iowa) The U.S. Department of Justice Thursday announced it has extended the deadline for qualified victims who wired money to scammers via Western Union to apply for refunds through a $586 million national settlement reached early last year.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, whose office subpoenaed company records to locate and contact Iowans who lost large amounts through wire fraud, including a widow who produced receipts showing her late husband lost $500,000, applauded the DOJ’s move to extend the deadline from February 12 to May 31. Miller estimates Iowa victims are likely owed millions.
Fraud victims may qualify for a refund through the settlement if they wired money through Western Union between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017. The Western Union Company, Federal Trade Commission, and Department of Justice announced the $586 million settlement January 19, 2017.
In November, the FTC announced settlement refund details, and a settlement administrator mailed 500,000 notices to victims nationwide who had previously reported being scammed to law enforcement, state attorneys general, or Western Union. Recently, the administrator mailed an additional 100,000 notices to victims throughout the U.S.
Iowa Notices Located Additional Victims
Last month, Miller’s office mailed additional settlement notices to more than 18,000 Iowa residents, including Iowans who did not report being scammed, and the Consumer Protection Division called victims who wired the largest amounts of money. The division obtained the names from Western Union after issuing a subpoena in November. The list includes Iowans who wired $500 or more in recent years to certain countries known for an elevated risk of fraud activity.
Many Iowans contacted by Miller’s office indicated they were unaware of the settlement, oftentimes because they didn’t report being scammed and were not on the national notification list. Victims do not need to have previously reported being scammed to qualify for a settlement refund.
“We think this is good news that Iowans now have a little more time to apply for these refunds, considering victims lost huge amounts of money and many didn’t know they could get money back until our office contacted them,” Miller said. “It’s been heartbreaking for me and my staff to hear some of these first-hand accounts from older Iowans who were tricked and victimized out of their savings—in some cases, their life savings.”
Iowa victims report they wired money to scammers who promised romance, international sweepstakes winnings and large inheritances from foreign countries, among other claims.
Iowa Widow’s Late Husband Scammed out of Half-Million
The stories include a central Iowa widow whose late husband lost more than $500,000 of their retirement savings through a Nigerian inheritance scam. The victim, who was in his 80s when he died recently, wired money dozens of times over a ten-year period after scammers insisted he pay fees to collect a supposed inheritance. The victim’s widow provided records that will assist her in recovering money through the settlement.
A Des Moines man reported wiring $150,000 through at least two scams, and many more Iowans report losing tens of thousands. In one case, a southeast Iowa man provided a box full of Western Union receipts to verify more than $50,000 in payments wired over two years in what turned out to be a romance scam.
Background on $586 Million Settlement
As part of the settlement, Western Union admitted that, between 2004-2012, it processed hundreds of thousands of transactions for company agents and others involved in an international consumer fraud scheme.
The company admitted it knew of the fraudulent activity but failed to act against its agents who either were involved in the transactions or helped facilitate them—often processing the fraud payments in return for a cut of the proceeds. The scams included fake lottery and prize awards, family emergencies, advance-fee loans, online dating, and others.
The company also admitted it failed to discipline problem company agents, and failed to implement effective anti-fraud policies and procedures.
Previous Iowa Settlement
In a separate settlement announced January 31, 2017 with 49 states, including Iowa, plus the District of Columbia, Western Union agreed to implement a comprehensive anti-fraud program and pay $5 million to the states, including nearly $54,000 to Iowa.
Settlement Claims Process
All eligible victims, regardless of whether they received a settlement claim notification or reported it, can apply by the May 31 deadline through a link available at ftc.gov/wu or westernunionremission.com. Victims can also call 844-319-2124 for more information.
While wire transfer receipts may help facilitate a settlement claim, victims do not need documentation. However, they will need to provide information about a wire transfer so a settlement administrator can verify the transaction.
“If you think a loved one or someone you know may have been scammed and wired money through Western Union, I urge you to mention this settlement to them so they can try to recover any money that they should be entitled to,” Miller said.
Consumer Tips for Wire Transfers
- In these types of frauds, scammers seek immediate payment through money transfer services (such as Western Union or MoneyGram) and also prepaid debit cards (such as a Green Dot card).
- Beware of calls urging you to wire money for an emergency involving a family member or friend. Scammers want you to act immediately, which is why it is so important to independently verify the circumstances.
- If someone claims the only acceptable form of payment is a money transfer, that’s a red flag.
- If you receive a check and are asked to wire back a portion of the funds, it’s a scam.
- If someone claims you won a lottery or contest but must first wire any type of payment, it is not legitimate.
- If you think you’ve been victimized by a money transfer scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov or call 877-382-4357.
- If you have questions or would like to report a scam to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, contact us:
Miller reminds Iowans that no representatives of Western Union, federal or state government agencies, or settlement administrators, will call consumers to seek or “verify” personal information regarding the Western Union settlement, or request fees for payment. Miller urges any Iowan who receives such a call to hang up.